On Wednesday we headed way up the mountain that rests on the side of Ecatepec, winding around crazy narrow roads and huge speedbumps. The speedbumps up here are almost like hills, a good foot high so you have to drive at them on a 45 degree angle in order to not bottom out, and even then, there’s a loot of scraping of car on pavement. We arrive at a community center in Ostor, which is pretty high up, above the smog line, with the sun beating down on us hard. The weather hadn’t been so great up to this point, so it didn’t even cross my mind to put sunblock on. That was a huge mistake, by the end of the day it felt like a chunk of my nose had melted off.
As we’re pulling our gear and posters out of the cabs, a large crew of kids, all between 6-10, great us. Kids here are different then kids back in the States. They don’t seem to be afraid of much of anything, and they carry themselves different, they seem much more self assured, but not in some macho aggressive way. They rolled up on us and wanted to shake all our hands, they introduced themselves and then asked what our names were and where we were from, and then once the formalities were out the way, they wanted to play. Here we were in their playground, so they expected we were going to deliver! We handed out posters, which immediately got rolled up into play swords and the fighting began, a dozen kids chasing me with newsprint sabers, until my asthma kicked in and I just couldn’t run anymore.
This was one of the most fun spots we worked in, covering a large 12 foot wide by 25 foot high wall with posters, and then spreading around the sides and edges of the community center. The kids climbed around with us and played until most of them got bored and moved on, except one 8 year old named Jesus, who attached himself to me and intently watched as a started pasting Celebrate People’s History posters around the edges of the center. He would pull out posters and hand them to me, and we’d talk in broken Spanish about the colors of the posters, what he enjoyed doing, etc.
Pretty soon he got bored of just choosing the posters, and took over the whole operation, carefully pulling a poster out, rolling paste on the wall, lining the poster up evenly with the previous one, and pasting over it, sealing it down.
He must of pasted a couple dozen posters—it was pretty amazing, it’s hard for me to imagine a kid in US having that kind of attention span.
3/4 of the way through pasting the walls in Ostor a red pick-up truck sporting the logo of the PAN (the right-wing party in Mexico) pulled up and 3 guys jumped out. A heated argument sparked up between our handlers (at least nominally representatives of the ruling PRD party, put really community activists and organizers inspired by La Otra Compaña) and these PAN goons, who were pissed that we were putting up posters with left political content. They were threatening the community center, saying that it would lose all its funding. They weren’t violent, but definitely aggressive, even going so far as to threaten the elderly community women that were watching over the center and giving us instructions as to where we should paste and paint, and where not to.
Ostor was also the first spot we went to that had a fair amount of existent graffiti, but almost all of it seemed like gang markings (the “South Central Boys” seem to have strayed pretty far from Los Angeles) or random tags. My favorite was FLOYD written in giant pink letters, begging the question of whether some confused parents had named their poor kid Floyd, or somehow lost-in-translation that name had taken on a rough edge and became “hard,” or maybe it was simply an ode to oddball British rock music in visual pun form.
Either way, it seemed to be the one marking we covered over that anyone noticed, with a gang of older kids congregating as we were leaving, asking each other “What happened to Floyd?”
Off we went back to Xalostog, for an opening of the Yo! show, a stencil workshop, and another olfactory dose of the animal rendering plant. We rolled up and the walls we had pasted in the entryway had dried, and looked great. The center was really pleased with them, and planned on leaving it up for as long as it lasted. Unfortunately it wasn’t just the community that showed up for the show and workshop, three cops were there too, one with an M16!! John Carr put it best, “What the hell is a cop with a machine gun doing in an art show called Yo! What Happened to Peace????”
Aside from the cops, who beyond the guns spent a chunk of the time harassing Melanie and Geraldine, the event went great. The workshop was really fun, almost entirely populated by 8-12 year olds and their parents, none of whom had ever cut a stencil before. There was also a crew of teenagers, young graffiti writers, who wanted to hang out and see what they could learn. Language made it hard to communicate, but they seemed cool and interested, and I gave them copies of Stencil Pirates. I ended up giving away a lot of books over the week, because people often didn’t have much money on them (or much money period), but wanted to know where to get the books. In the States I’m used to just giving people a web address to go buy them, but in Ecatepec that just led to glazed over stares. I don’t think a single one of these kids had a computer, never mind an email address or regular access to the internet.
Most of the younger kids struggled with cutting the stencils, but a good chunk were successfully able to carve their names out of the cardstock, and immediately got to painting them all over the place. We didn’t suspect such a young group, but they ended up being able to handle sharp blades. The only one to cut themsleves was one of the older kids! It was awesome watching brothers and sisters helping each other, and kids struggle but succeed at their first spray paintings.
As if we hadn’t already crammed enough into a day, we rushed out from Xalostog back to D.F., to the Museo de la Ciudad. Favianna had been invited at the last minute to be on a panel with Jorge from Komal Collective and Joaquin from the Ecatepec Ministry of Culture. I’m still a little fuzzy on the exact details, but sometime in the past month, Komal and other adherents to La Otra Compaña had worked with some of the more radical people in the Ministry of Culture to get the government (I believe the government of the State of Mexico, which includes Ecatepec and part of Mexico City) to pass a bill stating that Art is a Human Right that Must be Accessible to All. Part of this event was to celebrate and announce that, but also to strategize how to enforce it, how to make the government actually fund the arts for the poorest sectors of society.
For being last minute, there was a great turnout of 60 or so people. In addition to Favi speaking, Jesus, Bobby and Sombre set up live screenprinting, Alex and I wheatpasted on 4 or 5 4’x8′ sheets of plywood lined up, and Reed did live video-mixing of footage he had shot of the trip, art from Reproduce & Revolt, and live camera of the screenprinting. Jesus printed a poster design of mine, my “Free the Land” print I flattened to 1 color and changed to say “Tierra y Libertad.”